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Posts Tagged ‘urban design’


Photo: Elsa Soläng/ArkDes
Designed to be easily moved, each wooden Street Moves element includes a range of features. Above, seating, scooter storage, and a bike rack are good for neighborhoods near transit stops. 

To have the kind of cities we want, we can always rethink what’s there. But the space right outside our front door may be the place to start.

Feargus O’Sullivan at Bloomberg CityLab reports about an idea from Sweden.

“In 2020, as pandemic lockdowns forced billions of people around the world to become intimately familiar with their neighborhoods, one of the hottest ideas in urban planning was the ‘15-minute city.’ A vision for a decentralized urban area that allows residents to meet their daily needs within a quarter-hour walk or bike from their homes, the concept has been pursued as a means of cutting greenhouse emissions and boosting livability in a host of global cities — especially Paris, where Mayor Anne Hidalgo has embraced the model as a blueprint for the French capital’s post-Covid recovery

“Now Sweden is pursuing a hyperlocal variation, on a national scale. A plan piloted by Swedish national innovation body Vinnova and design think tank ArkDes focuses attention on what Dan Hill, Vinnova’s director of strategic design, calls the ‘one-minute city.’ … Sweden’s project operates at the single street level, paying attention to ‘the space outside your front door — and that of your neighbors adjacent and opposite,’ Hill says.

“Called Street Moves, the initiative allows local communities to become co-architects of their own streets’ layouts. Via workshops and consultations, residents can control how much street space is used for parking, or for other public uses. It’s already rolled out experimentally at four sites in Stockholm, with three more cities about to join up. The ultimate goal is hugely ambitious: a rethink and makeover of every street in the country over this decade. …

“Unlike the 15-minute city concept, Sweden’s one-minute city model is not about meeting the needs of all city residents at a hyperlocal level — that would overlook fundamentals like public transit, job access, or specialist health care. Instead, the spaces just beyond the doorstep are ideal places for cities to start developing new, more direct ways of engaging with the public, Hill suggests. They are a filter and a portal to the wider world; the atmosphere they generate and the amenities they contain speak volumes about how a community operates and what it values. …

The project seeks to break through assumptions — as prevalent in Sweden as elsewhere — that address streets primarily as places to move and store cars. …

“Though Street Moves’ first steps predate 2020, its choice of focus seems doubly relevant in the wake of a year when stay-at-home orders and street demonstrations reinforced a sense that our immediate neighborhoods are platforms where we must tackle and overcome the most fundamental of social hurdles. While its mix of removing car space and increasing community consultation may sound too utopian to be imitable in the U.S. or elsewhere, the basic tools Street Moves uses are American in inspiration — street furniture units based on the ‘parklet’ model.

“Vinnova’s plan works like this. With design firm Lundberg Design, the project has developed a kit of street furniture, designed to fit the dimensions of a standard parking space and built on hard-wearing pine decks. These units, inserted into the curb space, can be fitted depending on need with seating planters, bike or scooter racks, children’s play spaces or electric car charging stations attached. Easily connectable, the deck panels can either be stand-alone units, or configured to flank an entire street. …

“While municipalities may provide their own versions of this toolkit, the design of each street is based on workshops and conversations with local residents — including schoolchildren. Streets near transit stops might favor more bike parking, while those with cafés could opt for more seating. Some units might emphasize tree-filled planters, others play spaces. Piece by piece, these installations can transform streets into sites of sociability and mixing, joining up steadily into neighborhoods where the space used daily by residents extends little by little out into the open air. …

“The community design process matters as much as the street elements themselves, the project’s leaders emphasize. The installations are easily replaced, adapted or removed, making them provisional propositions instead of one-size-fits-all permanent solutions. Some could be experiments that eventually lead to more extensive redesigns; others might be seasonal. ‘The most important things about these prototypes we’ve made is that they could all be the wrong thing,’ says Kieran Long, director of Arkdes. …

“None of this direct engagement and transformation can happen, however, if cities themselves don’t have concrete ways to carry it out. Right now, many cities charged with the daily business of trying to collect garbage and keep schools running don’t, with some good reasons, necessarily have the firing of a new political imagination high on their agenda. In Sweden, where the government’s early reluctance to institute coronavirus lockdowns proved disastrous, the pandemic is further complicating this challenge — but it could also be contributing to a willingness to press the reset button.”

More at CityLab, here.

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It’s a little hard to get my head around using this topic for an opera, but an article at FastCo Design makes it seem almost logical.

“A legendary 1960s battle over the urban design of New York City is getting its dramatic due. The struggle between urban planner Robert Moses and journalist/activist Jane Jacobs over Moses’s proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway will become an opera, thanks to composer Judd Greenstein and director Joshua Frankel.

“Moses and Jacobs had deeply divergent visions of New York City’s future. Moses was the powerful planner behind a swath of New York City expressways that displaced half a million people during his reign as the city’s master builder. He envisioned a city built for easy driving.

“Jacobs, who popularized the idea of eyes on the street — the notion that streets are safer and more vibrant when there are pedestrians on them — vehemently opposed Moses’s plans to raze Washington Square Park and much of Greenwich Village, where she lived, to build yet more miles of highway.” More here.

If you ask nicely, I will sing you the lyrics Arnold Horwitt wrote to the tune of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (substituting the word Moses) that the crowd sang on a ferry ride to protest a road Moses proposed for Fire Island.

Photo: FastCoDesign

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Even if, like me, you never got into the TV show “The Wire,” you may know that it was about a troubled section of Baltimore. You also may be interested in a new school there, intended to serve as a real community gathering place.

New York Times design critic Michael Kimmelman has the story.

“In many ways, public schools are gated communities, dead zones,” writes Kimmelman. “They’re shuttered after dark and during the summer, open to parents and students while in session but not to the larger community.

“A new public school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in East Baltimore wants to challenge the blueprint. Designed by Rob Rogers, of Rogers Partners in New York, Henderson-Hopkins, as it’s called, aspires to be a campus for the whole area — with a community center, library, auditorium and gym — as well as a hub for economic renewal.

“This is the neighborhood where parts of ‘The Wire’ were filmed. In 2000, when the city’s mayor convened local business leaders, the vacancy rate was 70 percent. Poverty was twice the city average. Crime, infant mortality and unemployment were all through the roof.

“The idea that emerged — of making the school the centerpiece of a major redevelopment project — is a grand urban experiment. Operated by Johns Hopkins University in collaboration with Morgan State University, the school, which opened in January, belongs to a $1.8 billion plan that also includes new science and technology buildings, a park, retail development and mixed-income housing. While gentrification might threaten to displace the poor, the school is to be the glue that helps bind the district together.” Read more here.

Photo: Matt Roth for The New York Times
Henderson-Hopkins, which shares its library, gym, auditorium, and other features with the surrounding area, is designed to catalyze change in a blighted section of Baltimore.
 

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congress st nook

The City of Boston has a nice opportunity for folks with ideas about making cities more livable.

The City says, “In Boston, a third of the land is open to the public. We invite you to reimagine that space. How can our streets, plazas, sidewalks, street furniture, and public buildings better serve people?

“The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics Streetscape Lab is sourcing ideas from designers, makers, artists, and engineers to improve Boston. We are asking members of our vibrant creative community to submit project ideas to make our public spaces simple, intuitive, and literally awesome. Project ideas can be entirely new creations or a new way of using an existing product. The City will review the submissions and may select up to six ideas total to implement in the following categories:

“The Streetscape: sidewalks, streets, medians, plazas, and our other civic front porches. What improvements would you make to space? What is the next iteration of our classic street furniture? Look at the sample locations to get you thinking.

“Boston City Hall: rethinking the indoor and outdoor space, signage, improving service delivery and the user experience. These designs may help inform future improvements to the building.

“Random Awesome Designs: great ideas that defy classification or location.” Guidelines here.

I see no reason you have to be an artist or an engineer. What’s to stop you from sending in a good idea? Go for it.

Dewey-Sq-_farmers_market

providence author lovecraft

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Of the various articles written recently about the elderly Koreans hanging out in a McDonald’s in Queens, the one I liked best and learned the most from was Michael Kimmelman’s at the NY Times. He asks an intriguing question.

“Why that McDonald’s?

“The kerfuffle started when word spread that the police were repeatedly evicting elderly Korean patrons from a McDonald’s in Queens. The Koreans have been milking their stays over $1.09 coffees, violating the restaurant’s 20-minute dining limit. The news made headlines as far away as Seoul. Last week, Ron Kim, a New York State assemblyman, brokered a détente: The restaurant promised not to call the police if the Koreans made room during crowded peak hours.

“Still, the question remains. The McDonald’s at issue occupies the corner of Parsons and Northern Boulevards, in Flushing. A Burger King is two blocks away. There are scores of fast-food outlets, bakeries and cafes near Main Street, a half-mile away

“So, in the vein of the urban sociologist William H. Whyte, who helped design better cities by watching how people use spaces, I spent some time in Flushing. What I found reinforced basic lessons about architecture, street life and aging neighborhoods.” Read it all.

My key takeaways: older people, especially those with canes, think two blocks from home is OK, but not four; elderly people like picture windows and a busy street corner with a constantly changing scene; they like looking in to see if people like them are inside (the McDonald’s on Main Street has older Chinese, not Koreans); they like little nooks where a group can gather comfortably.

As a longtime booster of walkable communities, I find it all makes perfect sense. If such naturally occurring communities continue to appear, perhaps they should be encouraged, with some kind of compensation for the business owner. What if the city redirected some money for senior programs to a business that provided space in downtimes? Crazy?

My husband frequents a coffee shop group where folks hang out but not all day. That group has had its differences with the proprietor, goodness knows. There ought to be ways to make everyone happy.

Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
Picture windows, lively traffic and easy access for the elderly: the McDonald’s at Northern and Parsons Boulevards in Queens.

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Planetizen’s Brent Toderian wrote a while back that he attended a book party in Vancouver where Simon Fraser University City Program Director Gordon Price asked “each member of the crowd to state an urban design decision that ‘they loved.’ …

“When it came to my turn, my answer took a big picture and perhaps surprising approach, depending on your definition of urban design. In Vancouver, a city often referred to as ‘a city by design,’ the most important urban design decision we ever made, the decision I loved most, is actually usually referred to as a transportation decision.

“In 1997, the city approved its first influential Transportation Plan.

“It was a game-changer for our city-making model in many ways, most notably in its decision to prioritize the ways we get around, rather than balance them. The active, healthy and green ways of getting around were ranked highest – first walking, our top priority, then biking, and then transit, in that order. The prioritization then went on to goods movement for the purposes of business support and economic development, and lastly, the private vehicle. …

“If you’re a driver who is worried about a ‘war on the car,’ remember this — our model of city building understands the ‘Law of Congestion’ and proves that when you build a multimodal city, it makes getting around better and easier for every mode of transportation, including the car. It makes our city work better in every way.”

Read Toderian’s whole Planetizen post, here.

Photo: Vancouver.ca

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K. Emily Bond has a nice article at EcoSalon on the greening of architecture. (Thanks for the lead, ArtsJournal!)

“The trend of vertical gardening is up,” writes Bond, “as is the rise of the jolly green skyscraper. Easy on the eyes and easier on the planet, the trend of upward greenery is transforming our concrete jungles into ivied oases. …

“As watchers of modern eco architecture, of course, there does come a point when we ask what it is, exactly, we’re looking at. … Is it architecture, or vegitecture?

“That’s what the Barcelona City Council and one Spanish firm are calling this, the Green Side-Wall, ‘represent[ing] the birth of a novel type of construction in the field of vegitecture.’ ” See the photograph.

“An interior staircase lends access to the metal platforms throughout; a pulley system facilitates the transport of planters, nests, and other materials within the prefabricated steel frame.” More.

It’s all a bit complicated. But what fun!

Photograph: Ecosalon.com

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